By LEANNE ITALIE and VERENA DOBNIK
NEW YORK —
As workers tried to clear away the last of the rubble that once was two New York City apartment buildings, a pair of congregations gathered to mourn Sunday — one for its lost church and one for two members who lost their lives in the massive explosion.
At Bethel Gospel Assembly, tears mixed with the sounds of gospel music as the church remembered Griselde Camacho and Carmen Tanco, two of the eight people killed in the massive East Harlem explosion that leveled a pair of five-story buildings on Wednesday.
“We feel the void,” said Michelle Robinson, the church’s business administrator. “Both women were very active members.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also visited the house of worship where members of the Spanish Christian Church, which had been located on the first floor of one of the destroyed buildings, were spending Sunday.
After the three-hour service at the Church of God a few blocks from the blast site, several dozen members of the destroyed church, including young families with children, fell into each other’s arms amid tears and faint smiles.
The blast erupted about 15 minutes after someone from a neighboring building reported smelling gas, authorities said. The National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates pipeline accidents, said Friday that underground tests conducted in the hours after the explosion registered high concentrations of natural gas.
City Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano said should be able to get to the gas pipes and meters in the front of the buildings’ basements Sunday.
Arson detectives and fire marshals have been waiting to enter the basements to examine meters, check pipes and inspect any possible ignition sources, such as light switches, that might have caused the blast.
Cassano said all but 15 percent of the rubble from the buildings had been cleared away late Saturday.
Truckloads of scattered material will be sifted for any traces of human remains that might not have been found at the site, Cassano said. Although the bodies of all eight people reported missing have been recovered, the rescue operation was continuing in case others may be buried beneath the rubble, he said.
More than 60 people were injured in the explosion, and more than 100 others were displaced.
Police have identified six of those who died: Camacho, 45, a Hunter College security officer; Tanco, 67, a dental hygienist who participated in church-sponsored medical missions to Africa and the Caribbean; Andreas Panagopoulos, 43, a musician; Rosaura Hernandez, 22, a restaurant cook from Mexico; George Ameado, 44, a handyman who lived in one of the buildings that collapsed; and Alexis Salas, 22, a restaurant worker.
Mexican officials said another Mexican woman, Rosaura Barrios Vazquez, 43, was among those killed. The name of the eighth person recovered, a woman, hasn’t been released.